With Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming film Interstellar, the director of The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception boldly goes into outer space with his most visually spectacular and emotionally resonant movie yet. We can say that because we’ve seen it. We also watched Nolan make it, and in this week’s Entertainment Weekly, we bring you onto the top secret set and take you into editing room to chronicle how the man who made Batman fly to new heights pushed himself creatively and personally to produce his sci-fi epic.

Interstellar opens Nov. 5 and stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, and John Lithgow, to name a few. (Seriously: There are more.) The plot tracks a quartet of astronauts and scientists—and the most unusual robot to grace the screen in years (meet the fall’s breakout star: a mini-monolith of metamorphic Jenga blocks named TARS)—who journey across the universe to search for a new home for mankind: In the near future of the film, Earth is dying, ravaged by blight and environmental ruin.

And yet, Interstellar deliberately veers away from dystopia chic with its depiction of optimistic, adventurous heroism reminiscent of director Philip Kaufmann’s adaptation of The Right Stuff, which not only influenced the tone of Nolan’s movie but the techniques he used to make it. Informed by the work and theories of renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne, Interstellar is more akin to the speculative sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey than space opera fantasy like Star Wars, while still remaining accessible pop entertainment. Mind altering substances are not required to appreciate this trip. “Isn’t it nice to have a movie that is about all things the movie is about and not feel druggy?” says Hathaway with a laugh.

Nolan challenged himself and his team to fill Interstellar with imagery designed to inspire awe in the audience, not to mention a little terror. Dust storms. Tidal waves. Wormholes. A tiny, fragile spaceship juxtaposed against the monstrous gas planet of Saturn. Everything in the hush-hush final act. “This is the first film I have made where the actual experience of the film is paramount to the audience,” Nolan tells EW. “You would think that’s the case with Batman movies but it’s not; they’re more dependent on the reaction of characters on screen. Interstellar is different. It harkens back to the direct experience films of 2001, where you’re not just experiencing it through the characters, you are lost in it.” (You might want to watch Interstellar on an IMAX screen, especially since Nolan incorporated more than an hour of footage shot using IMAX cameras.)

Nolan also aspired to craft a philosophically thoughtful, deep feeling experience, too. He chased that goal in a number of ways, from an inventive collaboration with composer Hans Zimmer to drawing inspiration from his experience as a father. “The film is about human nature, what it means to be human. It sounds like a very grand statement, but I don’t intend it to be. I mean it in the way, say, Treasure of the Sierra Madre is about dramatizing ideas of human nature,” says Nolan, who wrote the script with his brother, Jonathan, and produced Interstellar with his wife, Emma Thomas, who has produced all of his movies. “When you take an audience far away from human experience as possible, you wind up focusing very tightly on human nature and how we are connected to each other. What the film tries to do is to be very honest in that appraisal.”

The result is Nolan’s most personal movie. “Nobody is able to put more scope, scale, awe on screen than Chris,” says McConaughey. “But I think he was wanting to take the next step, toward something more intimate. It was an evolution.”

For more on Interstellar, check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, Oct. 17.

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